Alistair Carmichael's Speech to Scottish Lib Dem Conference

Speech from Alistair Carmichael MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, to Scottish Liberal Democrat Autumn conference in Dunfermline:

Good morning, conference.

I want to start this morning by doing something that we should probably do more often.  

I want to say thank you.

I want to thank you for all the doors you knocked, leaflets you delivered, the street stalls you staffed, the telephone calls you made, the posters you put and put up again when they were taken down, and again...

I want, in short,  to thank you for everything you did to win the referendum on September 18th.

I want to thank you for having done all that too for George Lyon's campaign in May.

I want to thank George for having been an absolutely magnificent MEP, for representing this party and our country so well and for having fought with such energy and total commitment to stay there.  George, I miss having you as a parliamentarian but the real tribute to the quality of your work is that the farmers and the fishermen of Orkney and Shetland miss you even more.

I also want to thank you for things that you are yet to do.  In one hundred and fifty-eight days it will be polling day in the next general election.  We are going to have the fight of our lives in that campaign but I know that we can do it and that we shall.

For the first time in decades, we shall face the electorate across the whole of the United Kingdom and account for the things we have done in government.   

We have a good story to tell.  By being in government this party has made a difference.

The link between pensions and earnings or inflation - broken by the Tories, ignored by Labour, restored by a Liberal Democrat pensions minister, Steve Webb.

The personal allowance for income tax - £6,000 in 2010 - £10,500 by April next year - delivered by Danny Alexander in the Treasury.  Remember, conference, whatever they may say now as they try to steal the policy for themselves, that would never have been a Tory priority in government. They didn't want to cut income tax for workers on low wages they wanted to cut inheritance tax.  

The Tory instinct is always going to be to help the rich and they won't let a little thing like death stop that.

The ending of detention of children for immigration purposes - something that the Labour Party did and boasted about - ended on the insistence of Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister.

These things - and much more besides - are all part of the story we shall have to tell the people of Scotland next May.  

Our economy is stronger due to difficult decisions the coalition  government has taken since 2010. While other big economies in Europe like France and Germany are flat lining, ours continues to grow and has now returned to the size and strength that it had before the crash of 2008. 

Unemployment is down, the number of people in employment is up.  

The number of young people unemployed is now falling rapidly. 

So between now and next May when we talk about a stronger economy and a fairer society allowing everyone to get on in life -  that will not just be a promise but also a record.

A record of which we should be proud and a story that we shall have to tell.  But here is the rub - we have to do it for ourselves.  Nobody will do it for us.

So that, I am afraid, means more door knocking, more leaflet delivering, more telephone calling, more street stalls - and for that I want to thank you now.    The support and commitment that you give to this party is truly humbling and every second of it is appreciated.

Because politics is important.

It is a serious business and the SNP fun house cannot simply entertain forever.

Once the new artwork is installed at Bute House.

After the brass plaques are screwed on to the ministerial offices.

When the last of the helium goes out of the 45 defeat balloon.

Then - soon - will be the time to move on from words and on to governing.

In the two years leading up to the referendum our new First Minister spoke often and at length about inequality in Scotland.

But after seven and a half years in office the government in which she served has failed to deal with that issue.

On child care, on housing, on health, the Scottish a Government has levers it could've pulled.

But they chose not to.

Now that Nicola is in charge, the excuses and the blame game really must stop.

As First Minister, the priorities are hers to set and the levers are hers to pull.

If she wants to address inequality, the time is now and the clock is ticking.

And not just on inequality that she can, should and must act.


Our roads need investment.


Our justice system needs reform.


Our health service - and our mental health services in particular - need support.


Nicola Sturgeon can break with the past and address these things now.


Her commitment to people in Scotland will be measured by her willingness to act.


Not her manoeuvring for a second referendum that implies people were too stupid to get the answer right first time.


And the range of policy choices at the Scottish Government's disposal is set  to widen.


From 2015 the Scottish Parliament will have borrowing powers.


From 2016, MSPs will set a separate rate of national income tax.


And I have every confidence that from next week, courtesy of the Smith Commission, we will have a plan for yet more powers.


A further move towards our vision of home rule for Scotland within our shared United Kingdom.


Before the referendum campaign I said publicly that the parties must meet within a month of a No vote to start work on mapping out the route to more powers.


And I suggested that Lord Robert Smith of Kelvin should chair our joint efforts. 


I am glad that he is doing so.


And I have confidence in the process he is chairing.


More powers are coming.


On tax, on welfare, on whichever new powers are devolved, the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government, will have increased ability to act, enhanced accountability to the Scottish people, and the chance to change Scotland for good.


So to those in the SNP who seek to keep their dream of independence alive by promoting the lie that we will not make good on our promises I say this - "You are wrong. You know it.  So stop it.   This party was the first to come forward with more plans for a stronger Scottish Parliament.   This party designed the process for building the consensus necessary to deliver them.   


As Secretary of State for Scotland I shall receive Lord Smith's heads of agreement next week and then get onto the job of producing the bill to turn them from good ideas into powers for the people of Scotland.  We have already assembled the team to do it. 


I can hardly wait.


We designed this process.  


We started it.


We shall see it through.


These are important times for Scotland. And important times for our Party too.


I have lost count of the number of times that journalists, opponents and commentators have said to me in recent months - you are going to have a hard time at the next election.


Well, I joined this party in 1980.  At that time we had just come through a difficult general election. Our former leader had not long walked from the dock of the Old Bailey where he had been tried for conspiracy to murder.


That was a hard time.


I was here through the  merger experience after which we nearly disappeared.


I was there at the Hamilton South by-election when we finished behind the Hamilton Academicals FC Supporters Club Candidate.


I have had the privilege of being a parliamentary candidate four times.  I have been a council candidate. I have been an election agent.  I have been a local party treasurer, membership secretary, secretary and Chair.


Never mind all this  talk of "You are in for a difficult time".  I look back over thirty-four years of party membership and political activism and I cannot remember an easy time.


There have been more obituaries written for this party than you would ever believe and every time they write us off we prove them wrong and I tell you this - we shall do it again. 


We shall do it again because our country needs liberalism and liberal democracy more than ever today.


This is a dangerous time for our country.  


The long difficult years of austerity when people have seen their incomes squeezed as prices and other costs have gone up have produced fertile ground for parties offering easy answers. 


The forces  of nationalism and populism have rarely been stronger - either the Scottish Nationalism of the SNP or the English nationalism of UKIP


Telling people that all you need to do is draw a line on the map, pull up the draw bridge and all your problems will be solved.


It is dangerous thinking.  


It is wrong.


And it is why our political debate needs a strong liberal voice today more than ever.


On immigration, we are seeing already the Labour and Conservative Parties limbering up for a race to the bottom as Nigel Farage fires the starting pistol.  


Well, that is a two horse race they are welcome to win.  


For as long as I have anything to do with it, this party will not be on the starting line.   


Yes, of course, we must a strong and robust immigration system in which our people can have confidence.  A system that will treat people fairly and with some efficiency.   How you achieve that is where a responsible debate lies.


But that is not the same thing as talking about deporting people who have come here from other parts of the world, made their homes here, helped to build our economy and become part of our communities.


Britain has always been a welcoming and accepting country - give up on that and we lose one of our defining characteristics.


And we would lose a lot more than that.


40,000 Doctors currently working in the NHS who were born outside the UK for starters.


Overseas students who contribute £13 billion to our economy.


And much much more besides.


If we treat those who come to live here as UKIP apparently want us to do, then what right do we have to complain if other countries then treat our citizens in the same way?


If Messrs Farage and Reckless start repatriating Poles and Greeks where will that leave the 1.4 million British citizens now living elsewhere in the European Union? 


An immigration debate that lacks a liberal voice, putting the positive case for a rational approach to a balanced system will be dangerous and divisive and ultimately will do harm to our economy here at home and our standing in the eyes of other countries overseas.


We must be that liberal voice - no other party can or will.


And as in immigration, so in other areas. 


On Drugs policy you saw what happened when Norman Baker sought to pursue an evidence-based approach to policy instead of knee-jerk reaction and populism. He was blocked at every turn by Conservative ministers more concerned by the reaction of the right wing press rather than tackling one of the biggest scourges facing our communities today. 


Something which brings misery to our cities towns and villages every day. 


Something which adds massively to the cost of healthcare, education and criminal justice.  


Something where current policy has so obviously failed that the case for change makes itself.


No other party is going to make the liberal case for Scotland and Britain.


No other party will care for the strength of our economy but at the same time help the vulnerable.


No other party will stand against the galloping centralisation of the nationalists.


No other party will make the case for us being at the heart of Europe instead of sitting on the sidelines or heading to the exit.


No other party will put internationalism ahead of nationalism and narrow self-interest.


No other party will finish the job of devolution in Scotland and modernise government across the whole of the United Kingdom.


Only this party can deliver the change our country needs.


Will it be easy?  Of course not.  It never has been. 


Challenging privilege, prejudice and entrenched self-interest never has been but it is what brought me into politics and it is what this party has been doing in government for the last four and a half years.


Never easy but necessary and right.  And we are the people to do it.


Thank you.


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